Eat Mindfully and have a Healthier Weight

Obesity is epidemic in the industrialized world. In the U.S. more than 2 in 3 adults are considered to be overweight or obese, while more than 1 in 3 adults are considered to be obese. Particularly troubling is that about one-third of children and adolescents are considered to be overweight or obese and half of those are obese. This is having a major impact on the health of the population. Obesity has been found to shorten life expectancy by eight years and extreme obesity by 14 years.

There has been extensive study of overeating and obesity and countless dietary programs have been proposed, but the epidemic appears to be getting worse rather than better. Recently mindfulness has been looked at as potentially helpful in weight control. In today’s Research News article “Association between Mindfulness and Weight Status in a General Population from the NutriNet-Santé Study.”

it is shown that the risk of obesity is lower in women and men who have high mindfulness.

The use of mindfulness as an aid for healthy weight is very exciting and early results are very promising. But, how can mindfulness, being aware in the present moment, affect eating and body weight?

A substantial proportion of eating occurs mindlessly. We often eat while distracted, immersed in conversation, watching television, reading etc. It has been shown that intake is increased when we eat mindlessly. With mindless eating, we tend to ignore the body’s cues of hunger, satiety, and fullness and keep eating even when full. Mindfulness training, simply by improving attention to what is transpiring in the present moment is an antidote to mindless eating. It is impossible to be simultaneously paying attention and being mindless. It is impossible to be mindful and not notice the body’s signals of hunger and fullness. Hence, one way that mindfulness can assist in intake and weight control is by making us more mindful eaters.

People, particularly women, tend to eat when they are experience intense emotions. Food seems to be used as a salve for ruffled emotions. Mindfulness can help here also. Mindfulness training improves the individual’s ability to regulate and respond appropriately to their emotions. This improved emotional regulation is an antidote to emotional eating. Rather than attempting to control emotions through eating the individual can apply mindfulness, improving emotional regulation, and thereby reducing overall intake.

Chronic stress also tends to promote overeating and obesity. As has been shown in a myriad of studies, mindfulness training is an antidote for chronic stress. Hence, by reducing stress mindfulness can help to reduce food intake.

Many obese people try to control their eating through avoidance or limit-setting, thinking “willpower” is what they need. As a result they are constantly trying the latest diet fad. But the diet makes them miserable and produces negative feelings about food. This, by itself, is sufficient reason to abandon the diet, which is almost the inevitable outcome. Mindful eating, on the other hand, enhances the pleasantness of eating. By paying close attention to the food, its flavors and textures, the individual begins to savor food and truly enjoy eating. So, mindful eating can not only reduce intake but also can do so while promoting enjoyment of food. This makes mindful eating programs much easier to maintain, making them more effective.

SO, learn to eat mindfully and maintain a healthier weight.


Mindfulness, the Pain Killer

Many people have to deal with pain on a daily basis. Most use prescription medications to help. But, these drugs are dangerous and over 12,000 people a year die from overdoses of these powerful pain killers. In addition, there are a number of disorders that do not respond well to these drugs. One of these painful disorders is fibromyalgia.

In today’s Research News “Mindfulness meditation alleviates fibromyalgia symptoms in women: Results of a randomized clinical trial.”

It is reported that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) reduces symptoms of fibromyalgia, including perceived stress, sleep disturbance, and symptom severity, but not pain or physical functioning. This study and prior research suggest that mindfulness is a safe and effective treatment for this painful disorder. It is not a magical cure, but can be of great assistance in coping with the disorder.

MBSR contains both meditation and yoga practice. Prior research suggests that both may be helpful with pain management. Yoga exercises may help reduce fibromyalgia pain. Yoga has been shown to reduce pain, fatigue, depression, and improve sleep and energy. But, it is unclear whether meditation and yoga practice act in the same way, synergistically, or additively. Regardless they seem to work; but how?

Mindfulness practice and particularly MBSR appears to calm the sympathetic nervous system, reducing stress. This benefit can lead to a lowering of resting heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and relax muscle. Mindfulness promotes deep muscle relaxation which lessens tension and irritability. With the reduction of the stressful effects of pain, the pain becomes more manageable. The physiological relaxation itself can stop the pain from amplifying itself through the induction of the stress response.

Mindfulness practice can also help manage the psychological effects of pain. When pain is consistently part of the day, the individual starts to dwell on it. This in turn produces stress and anxiety about the present pain, as well as a dread concerning future pain. Mindfulness training can help patients learn to direct their attention away from pain. By focusing on the present moment, thoughts of future pain are removed.

Mindfulness practice can promote relaxation and awareness of what is actually transpiring. This can reduce the distressing thoughts and feelings that come with pain and prevent them from making the pain worse. Mindfulness training can enhance body awareness, which may lead to improved self-care. All of these effects of mindfulness training can help with the pain management.

Mindfulness training is known to produce changes in the nervous system that may provide benefits for pain patients. The changes appear to result in an inhibition of the central nervous system’s ability to perceive pain, reducing the sensations the patient actually feels.

So practice mindfulness to assist in pain management.


Be Smart about Emotions

Emotions are powerful forces in our lives. They supply the richness and texture to life experiences, producing joy, surprise, love, happiness, elation, and satisfaction. But, they can also be troubling, associated with fear, hate, stress, anxiety, and anger. We are highly motivated by these emotions and in general seek the experience of positive emotions and try to avoid the experiencing the negative ones.

We should not view emotions as a problem and that our lives would be better without them. To the contrary, eliminating or blunting emotions is itself a problem. This is termed by psychologists as flat affect. People who experience this often comment that they have lost the “juice” in life and desire to return to the emotional ups and downs that seem to supply life’s richness. So, the emotions appear to be essential for humans to lead a rich full life.

On the other hand, when emotions become too strong they can overwhelm the individual and lead to maladaptive behavior. For example thrill seeking can lead to dangerous activities. Also, many mental illnesses are characterized by extremes of emotions. These include phobias, panic disorders, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorders, etc. In addition, strong negative emotions can lead to violence and aggression.

We need to be emotional, but not too much so. We need to be able to have emotions, but not in the extremes and we need to not overreact or overly seek emotions. In other words we need to be able to be smart with our emotions and develop the ability to regulate our emotional lives. This is termed by psychologists as emotional regulation and the ability to do so is termed as emotional intelligence.

Mindfulness has been shown to increase positive emotional states and decrease negative ones. This is one of the reasons that many people practice techniques to develop mindfulness. It seems to make their live better by assisting them in dealing with emotions. It appears to increase emotional regulation and thus mindful people can be said to have higher emotional intelligence.

How this might work to improve an individual’s ability to cope with life is explored in today’s Research News article “Dispositional mindfulness and perceived stress: The role of emotional intelligence.”

In this article Bao, Xue, & Kong explore how mindfulness might reduce perceived stress in life. They document that mindfulness is associated with lower levels of perceived stress and can do so directly. It appears to improve the individual’s ability to cope with life and be less stressed by the events in life. It is also demonstrated that mindfulness may reduce perceived stress by improving emotional intelligence, improving the individual’s ability to regulate and use emotions to their benefit and thereby reduce perceived stress.

Hence, the well documented ability of mindfulness to lower the individual’s feelings of stress in response to life appears, at least in part, to result from its ability to improve how well the individual can regulate their emotions. In other words, it appears to make people emotionally intelligent.

So, practice mindfulness and be smarter with your emotions; letting them enhance the experience of life while blunting their destructive side.


What Makes Mindfulness Sexy

Mindfulness has been shown to have tremendous benefits for physical and psychological health. It has also been shown to improve social interactions. It now appears that it can even make men seem more romantically attractive.

In today’s Research News article, “Individual differences in dispositional mindfulness and initial romantic attraction: A speed dating experiment”

it is shown that the more mindful a man is the more attractive he is to women, even when physical attractiveness is taken into account. Interestingly, it doesn’t work the other way around. Mindfulness does not add to the attractiveness of women beyond physical attractiveness.

How does mindfulness increase the attractiveness of men? One possibility is that mindfulness makes one more attentive to the present moment. That should make more attentive to the woman he’s interacting with. That he’s focused on her and not mind wandering would tend to improve the interaction and thereby increase attractiveness. Also, greater attention to one’s partner’s responses and non-verbal behavior may improve the quality of the interaction.

Another possibility is that mindfulness is associated with better health and it is known that healthy individuals are more attractive. Also, mindfulness is associated with greater happiness and happy people are more attractive.

An additional possibility is that mindfulness is associated with improved emotion regulation. That is a mindful individual is more in control of emotions and responses to emotions. A highly mindful individual then would appear less nervous and more in control and confident. This would heighten attractiveness.

Finally, high dispositional mindfulness is associated with positive relationship outcomes and mindfulness interventions enhance couple satisfaction, so it is possible women are attracted to men displaying mindfulness as a marker of potential relationship commitment and functioning.

So, men be mindful and be attractive.


Rediscovering Happiness

Basic human nature is to seek happiness. It is natural and programmed into our DNA. Many of us, however, find happiness to be very elusive. We have trouble finding it and even when we do, we don’t seem able to sustain it. How can we attain a state of enduring happiness?

In order to attain true and lasting happiness it is imperative to recognize that our core, natural, state is happiness. If we look back to infancy this becomes apparent. If an infant’s basic needs are satisfied it is happy. All it takes is a full belly and a clean diaper. It smiles and gleefully interacts with its environment. A young child’s play is an exemplar of pure joy. So, as long as our basic needs are satisfied we should be happy.

Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to work this way. Most adults pretty much have their basic needs satisfied, but they are not particularly happy. They occasionally discover happiness when something wonderful happens or when they acquire some highly desired thing, but the happiness fades quickly and they’re left unsatisfied and unhappy.

A key that may reveal the nature of the problem may be found in the expression “finding happiness.” It implies that we have to go look for it somewhere, with something, or with someone. If we have to search for it, then it can’t be present already. So we look in the external world and are quite frustrated that lasting happiness is never found.

If we were happy as a child we might ask ourselves how did we lose it? It was there but now it’s gone. Well, the truth is that it’s not gone, it’s not lost, it’s still there. But, if it’s still there why don’t we feel happy. What’s preventing us from seeing and experiencing the happiness that is always there in the core of our being?

Again look back at the infant. The baby is basically totally in the present moment, the past and future are not an issue. The child at play is completely immersed in the moment, not thinking about anything but what’s there right now.

If we look carefully, we’ll see that our current experience is actually dominated by the past and the future. It is that orientation that prevents us from being happy. We ruminate about the past and review it constantly or we project into the future and become anxious or fearful or worried. We seek happiness in the future by pursuing something that will happen later. In other words, we completely lose sight of the fact that the only time you can be happy is right now!

All of this leads to the conclusion that to find happiness we need to focus single mindedly on the present moment. It is there right here, right now if we just open our minds to it and put away thoughts of the past and future. Our minds find this very difficult to do. That’s where mindfulness training comes in. It is the best method to remove our mind from interfering with the happiness that is already there.

By practicing mindfulness we will learn to quite the mind and observe the present moment only. This takes time and devotion, but slowly the core of happiness will begin to emerge. Slowly you will begin to not just see but experience that happiness that is always there. Mindfulness practice removes the mental obstacles to happiness and unlocks your basic nature where there is always happiness. It is not in a person place or thing. It’s right there within you once you learn how to uncover it.

So practice mindfulness and rediscover the happiness that was always there.


Present Moment 3 – Spiritual Awareness of Now

The notion of focusing on the present moment is the essence of mindfulness practice. But, there are actually three forms of mindfulness; present moment awareness, ethical awareness of the present and spiritual awareness of the present. Contemplative practice as it is taught in the west often focuses exclusively on present moment awareness. In previous posts

we discussed the second kind of mindfulness; ethical awareness of the present. Today’s essay will focus on the third type; mindfulness suffused with spiritual awareness.

It is important in this regard for us to realize that contemplative practice can lead to spiritual development and awakening. This to some extent requires faith. But, we can look to myriad spiritually realized beings who have preceded us as models of what is possible. We can see in the lives of the Buddha, Jesus, the mystics, and many, many, present day realized beings that spiritual revelation is not only possible but occurs frequently and is available to those who seek it with devotion and sincerity.

Once it is understood that spiritual development is available we must begin to approach contemplative practice from a spiritual perspective. Our mindfulness practice needs to be purposeful. It should be approached with an intention to move toward spiritual development and any action that moves us in that direction should be followed while any that lead away or only toward secular goals should be abandoned.

There is a need to understand that we have within us the awakened nature that was evidenced in the Buddha and Jesus. In our contemplative practice we should seek that awakened nature. The teachings are clear that development of present moment awareness and ethical understanding of our actions are the first steps. Next we need to develop what the Buddha called “right view.” This begins to develop as a recognition develops that what is being sought is already there. It is present in all of us all of the time. We simply need to strive to remove all of those things that are keeping it from it emerging into our awareness.

It is difficult and takes time and practice to move from an intellectual understanding to an experienced reality that we are awareness itself. We are not the experience, but what is having the experience, We are what is looking out through our eyes, what is listening through our ears, and what is feeling, smelling, tasting. It is deep, permanent, and has always been there, we have just become so accustomed to it that we don’t see it. In fact, Jesus states in the gospels that “the kingdom of heaven is spread upon the earth but man does not see it.” The development of spirituality in mindfulness is how we can begin to move towards seeing it.

It should be clear that there is much more than simply being mindful of the present momnt. Actions have consequences and without proper mindful appreciation of those consequences the practice of mindfulness is without a compass to guide actions. Ultimately, we are spiritual beings. Without recognition of how spirituality is present right here, right no, our existence becomes shallow, without meaning or purpose. But with recognition that the present moment is spiritual, life can unfold with deep understanding and meaning. It is clear that the reintegration ethics and spirituality into mindfulness is vital. We need to make our practice focus on the present moment with awareness of its ethical and spiritual nature for us to experience the full power of mindfulness.

So, develop mindfulness, but ethical and spiritual mindfulness as well, be skillful and grow, thrive, and discover the truth of what you really are.


Overcome Attention Problems with Mindfulness

“ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. It is usually first diagnosed in childhood and often lasts into adulthood. Children with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors (may act without thinking about what the result will be), or be overly active.” Centers for Disease Control

ADHD is currently epidemic in the US. Roughly 6.4 million American children have been diagnosed with ADHD and 6.4% of American children are being treated with medication. There has been a 42% increase in the diagnoses of ADHD in the last 8 years. It should be emphasized that this increase in diagnoses probably represents an increase in awareness and willingness to diagnose ADHD rather than an increase in cases of ADHD.

What can be done about this huge problem that is affecting such a large proportion of American children and adults? The treatment of choice has been to prescribe drugs, particularly stimulants such as Methylphenidate. But, this is very controversial. Using drugs that alter the brain in children during the time of brain development is fraught with long-term risks, not to mention the short-term side effects of the drugs. Is there a better way?

Today’s Research News article, “Mindfulness Training as an Adjunct to Evidence-Based Treatment for ADHD within Families”

suggests that mindfulness training may be helpful. In this study mindfulness training was not used as a stand-alone treatment but rather as an addition to current treatments. So, it doesn’t completely solve the problem but is very helpful.

Mindfulness training can be a powerful tool to change the lives of ADHD sufferers. It has been shown to increase self-regulation which is exactly the primary problem in ADHD, producing problems with focusing attention. “Individuals with ADHD become more vulnerable to allowing strong psychological processes overpower their present-oriented experiences by capitulating to transient stimuli.” (Cassone, 2015, pg. 154). By increasing the ability to focus attention mindfulness training can help to overcome this central problem.

Mindfulness training helps individuals to simply watch their mental processes without getting caught up in them, without attaching to and getting carried away by intrusive thoughts. This makes the individual with ADHD better able, not necessarily to stop the onslaught of thoughts, but to let them go, to thus allow their attention to become resistant to distraction.

Mindfulness training appears to address the central problem in ADHD. It can do so with a program that costs nothing, can be practiced anywhere at virtually anytime, and has multiple other benefits.

So, be mindful and improve attention if you have ADHD, but even if you don’t.


Age Healthily – Mindful Movement and Cancer Recovery

Age Healthily – Mindful Movement and Cancer Recovery

Arguably the most feared disease is cancer. It is the second leading cause of death in advanced countries. In the US it accounts for over a half a million deaths annually. But, even if cancer is survived the debilitating effects of the disease may so weaken the individual to interfere with further recovery from the cancer or can lead to death from other causes.

Fatigue and distress are common symptoms among cancer survivors. This can lead to declines in quality of life, and poor adherence to cancer treatment. For older survivors, fatigue and distress can become debilitating.  The survivors lack the energy to manage the side effects of the treatments. The fatigue can also impair the elderly person’s ability to stave off other age-related diseases. It can also further exacerbate the declines in physical functioning associated with aging. The joint effect of all of these fatigue related issues  may create a downward spiral towards poor health and functioning. This can threaten their ability to maintain their independence into late life or even their life itself.

In today’s Research News article, “Levels of Fatigue and Distress in Senior Prostate Cancer Survivors Enrolled in a 12-Week Randomized Controlled Trial of Qigong,”

it is discovered that engaging in an ancient practice of mindful movement, Qi Gong, helps to relieve the fatigue and distress resulting from recovery from prostate cancer.

This is a potentially important finding as mindful movement practices are virtually an ideal exercise for the elderly. The slow mindful movements tend to increase mindfulness and also improve muscle strength and balance. The increased mindfulness can lead to marked psychological benefits of greater happiness and engagement in life as well as decreased depression and anxiety.

The increased muscle strength tends to help counteract the deterioration of the muscles associated with aging. While the improved balance aids in preventing falls that can have disastrous consequences given the fragile bones of the elderly. Mindful movement can do all of this and not produce further problems since the practice is not stressful on the muscles and bones. So it can be practiced without fear of injury.

So, engage in mindful movement practice and improve health particularly if your recovering from a debilitating health challenge.


Meditation and Intention

It has been well documented that meditation improves mindfulness which is an increase in present moment awareness. We become more clearly conscious of the stimuli in our immediate environment. So, meditation helps us focus our attention on the sensations of the moment.

But does meditation improve our awareness of our own actions? People are frequently not aware of their own movements even after having been specifically trained to pay attention to them and people often initiate voluntary movements while their mind is wandering elsewhere. Can meditation training help to make us more in tune with our own movements and activities?

In today’s Research News article, “Do meditators have higher awareness of their intentions to act?

brain activity is monitored in association with voluntary movements. It is shown that meditators have a more consistent association between the activity of their brain signaling intention to act and awareness of that intention. This clever method demonstrates that meditators are more consciously in touch with their intentions and actions than non-meditators. In other words, the mindfulness produced by meditation extends to improving awareness of how we are interacting with our world.

It has been repeated shown that meditation can reshape the nervous system. It can result in increased size and connectivity of areas associated with on-task awareness and behavior while reducing the size and connectivity of areas responsible for off-task mind wandering. It appears that this reshaping of the brain extends to the monitoring of intentions and voluntary actions.

This is very powerful. We often engage in life without ever being aware of what we’re doing. Our minds are elsewhere, totally caught up in thoughts that are unassociated with what we’re currently doing. Meditation can help to overcome this and increase our real time awareness of our environment, thoughts, and actions. No wonder that meditation has such profound effects on virtually every aspect of people’s minds and bodies.

Meditation can help us to lead mindful lives. It can help us overcome our preoccupations with our past and future and make us more tuned into what is going on and what we’re doing in the present moment. It can help us break out of our sleep walking through existence and to lead lives in awareness and appreciation of the wonders of existence.

So, meditate and live your life with mindful intention.


How do Mindfulness Based Interventions Improve Mental Health

Mindfulness training has been repeatedly shown to have significant benefits for the individual including improving mental health and wellbeing. It is quite remarkable how ubiquitously effective it is. This suggests that there probably are underlying, mediating, effects of mindfulness that produce its beneficial effects. Although there has been much speculation, it isn’t known exactly what these mediating effects are.

Today’s Research News article, “How do mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction improve mental health and wellbeing? A systematic review and meta-analysis of mediation studies

summarizes the research on the nature of the intermediaries between mindfulness and mental health and wellbeing and provides suggestive evidence of just how mindfulness training might work.

One mechanism identified is simple and direct. Increases in mindfulness itself can have direct associations with improvements in mental health and wellbeing. Just being in touch with the present moment appears to be sufficient to help. But it also appears that there are secondary consequences of mindfulness training that also influence mental health and wellbeing.

Rumination is characteristic of a number of mental health issues. The individual constantly and persistently replays troubling events or feelings from the past, maintaining and reinforcing their negative emotional effects. The focus on the present moment produced by mindfulness training is an antidote to rumination. Rumination requires a focus on the past. Shifting focus to the present automatically interferes with rumination and may underlie in part the effectiveness on mindfulness training on mental health and wellbeing.

Worry is also characteristic of a number of mental health issues. The individual persistently thinks about possible troubling events or feelings in the future. Worry requires a focus on the future to project the remote possibility of catastrophic events. The focus on the present moment produced by mindfulness training is an antidote to worry. One cannot be simultaneously paying focused attention to the present moment and projecting into the future. This undercuts the ability to worry.

Mindfulness training also tends to promote self-compassion; having loving kindness toward oneself. This induces greater acceptance for one’s problems. In addition, when feeling loving toward oneself, it is impossible to simultaneously have the self-hatred or low self-worth that is so characteristic of mental health issues.

A final possible contributory factor to mindfulness training’s ability to improve mental health and wellbeing is a mindfulness induced increase in psychological flexibility. The individual is better able to see their issues from different perspectives, producing greater understanding and acceptance.

Mindfulness training produces many positive effects. Sorting through which ones are the underlying mediators to improved mental health and wellbeing is important. But, far more important is that mindfulness training works and can be very helpful to people who are suffering from psychological issues.